Johnny Ahten, the captain at Fire Station 76 in Valencia, will be sporting a different type of firesuit this weekend at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.
Ahten is a driver in the NHRA Top Alcohol fuel class. The season-opening drag races are this weekend in Pomona with the elimination rounds starting on Sunday.
He has been racing top alcohol fuel dragsters since 2004 and drag racing since 1999. He says he inherited the racing bug from his dad.
“It’s my dad’s fault,” said the 40-year-old Ahten, who lives in Newhall. “He’s been doing it since he was 15. I grew up in Orange County and came to Pomona as a kid. I didn’t know any different.”
Ahten’s dad, Albert, is his crew chief. His car chief, Howard Katano, flies in from Hawaii for races. Ahten’s team and crew members are made of friends and family.
He has yet to win an NHRA event, but has been close a couple of times. He has two final-round appearances in his career and was in the semifinals at Pomona once. His personal-best run came in Pomona in 2010, at 5.25 seconds down the 1,000-feet strip.
He was won two IHRA events, including one at Salt Lake City, where he holds the track record.
Ahten has one of the oldest cars in the NHRA top alcohol fuel class, from 1996.
“It still runs good,” Ahten said. “It’s been freshened up a few times.”
When he’s not racing the car, Ahten is the clutch man on the crew. He repairs and maintains the clutch on his dragster between races.
Even though he would like to win a Wally, the trophy awarded to NHRA race winners, Ahten describes his team as a spoiler. He can win a round or two at any event, and sometimes knock out one of the favorites, but his resources are limited.
“I don’t have the large budgets,” Ahten said. “We try not to beat ourselves. My war chest is not as deep and just run out of parts.”
Given the opportunity, Ahten said he would give up his firefighting career and his top alcohol fuel dragster for a chance to race in Top Fuel or Funny Cars.
“In a heartbeat,” Ahten said. “I’m not going to lie. This is fun.”
Follow Tim Haddock on Twitter @thaddock.